Standin’ in the rain talkin’ to myself

by chuckofish

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I was reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is her first novel, published when she was 29 years old. It is about a group of self-involved college students (classics majors) at a small, elite college in Vermont.

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The book has problems, but I can appreciate Tartt on different levels. Hailed as a literary star, she has won many awards. I usually find “stars” unappealing, but I have to admit she’s pretty darn good.

Pur: that one word contains for me the secret, the bright, terrible clarity of ancient Greek. How can I make you see it, this strange harsh light which pervades Homer’s landscapes and illumines the dialogues of Plato, an alien light, inarticulable in our common tongue? Our shared language is a language of the intricate, the peculiar, the home of pumpkins and ragamuffins and bodkins and beer, the tongue of Ahab and Falstaff and Mrs. Gamp; and while I find it entirely suitable for reflections such as these, it fails me utterly when I attempt to describe in it what I love about Greek, that language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiply from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and with yet more actions filling in from either side to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect toward what will be inevitable, the only possible end.

The problem is I don’t care anything about any of the characters. She makes me feel nothing for them. They are sociopaths with few (if any) redeeming qualities. They are not even very interesting as “bad guys.” Having gone to a school similar to the fictional Hampden College, I get it. But the jerks she writes about are her heroes and they are not, believe me, heroes. I read half of the 500+ page book, and then thought, no, this is not worth my time. I skimmed the rest and read the end. I do not feel guilty about this.

I read The Power of Her Sympathy, the autobiography and journal of the mid-19th century author Catharine Maria Sedgwick (December 28, 1789 – July 31, 1867). She lived in Stockbridge and was a descendant of Ephraim Williams, founder of Williams College, among other noteworthy ancestors. She is very appealing to me.

The first of our Sedgwick ancestors of whom I have any tradition was Robert Sedgwick, who was sent by Oliver Cromwell as governor or commissioner…As I am a full believer in the transmission of qualities peculiar to a race, it  pleases me to recognize in “the governor,” as we have always called him, a Puritan and an Independent, for to none other would Cromwell have given a trust so important. A love of freedom, a habit of doing their own thinking, has characterized our clan…Truly I think it a great honor that the head of our house took office from that great man who achieved his own greatness, and not from the King Charleses who were born to it and lost it by their own unworthiness.

Don’t you love that? Well, she was something of a literary star in her day as well. I will need to follow up with one of her novels–Hope Leslie or The Linwoods.

I tried The Round House by Louise Erhdrich, which won the National Book Award in 2012. Meh.

I may have to go back to Pierre. I could do a lot worse.

Now that we are over a week into Lent, I need to turn my movie watching to a more spiritual focus. I watched Cool Hand Luke (1967) a few weeks ago, and was reminded what a tremendous movie it is indeed.

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I highly recommend it as part of your Lenten fare.

But first, I will remind you that 71 years ago today 30,000 U.S. Marines stormed Iwo Jima. If you need a good reason to watch John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), here it is!

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And news alert: ninety-two percent of college students prefer reading a traditional book rather than an e-book, according to a new study.

Have a good weekend!